Common Criticisms of the MBTI are Misguided

Posted 24 March 2016 by
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Written for Psychology Today by John A. Johnson, Ph.D. Click here to read the full article in Psychology Today: 

The Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) and its spin-offs are among the most popular personality inventories in the world. The MBTI is widely used in organizational workshops to demonstrate how people with similar or different personalities interact with each other. Hundreds of thousands of people have enjoyed discovering their personality type by completing the MBTI and similar inventories on the Web.

At the same time, the MBTI has been the target of extremely harsh criticism from the community of professional personality psychologists. A friend recently asked me what I thought about a recent article by Joseph Stromberg and Estelle Caswell (link is external) that described the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) as "totally meaningless." I read the article and found that its authors cited the same complaints about the MBTI that I have heard for decades. This is what I told my friend.

As I see things, to say that the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) is "totally meaningless" is to exaggerate the shortcomings of the instrument and how it is used.The main complaints about the MBTI that have been lodged over the years (and are repeated in the Stromberg and Caswell article) are as follows:

1. The MBTI was developed by Katharine Cook Briggs and her daughter, Isabell Briggs Myers, neither of whom had formal training in psychometrics or psychological assessment. Briggs earned a degree in agriculture and Myers, in political science.

2. The MBTI is based on psychoanalyst Carl Jung's theory of types. Jung is disrespected by many academic psychologists, who consider him to be a mystic without any ideas of scientific relevance.

3. The MBTI sorts people into 16 type categories, but most personality psychologists agree that individual differences in personality are better described by continuous traits than discrete type categories. They note that distributions of scores on the MBTI scales are continuous, with most scores in the middle rather than piling up at the low and high end, as type theory might predict.

4. Critics claim that there is no research indicating scores on the MBTI predict significant life outcomes such as job performance and satisfaction.

I have a response for each of these criticisms.

1. Briggs and Myers may not have had formal training in psychological assessment, but they were highly intelligent, college-educated, observant, thoughtful, and passionate about understanding personality. Research by Ashton and Goldberg (1973) demonstrated that even individuals without formal psychological training can create personality scales that are just as valid as professionally-developed scales. Imagine what two smart, highly-motivated women might accomplish if they put their minds to it....

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